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  • Published: 4 July 2019
  • ISBN: 9780241960592
  • Imprint: Penguin eBooks
  • Format: EBook
  • Pages: 640

King of the World

The Life of Louis XIV

The first full biography of the great Sun King of France for twenty years, including many recent discoveries and seeing Louis XIV in a broader European and world context

Louis XIV dominated his age. He extended France's frontiers into the Netherlands and Germany, and established colonies in America, Africa and India. Louisiana, which once occupied a third of the territory of the present-day United States, is named after him. The stupendous palace he built at Versailles, and its satellites at Marly and Trianon, became the envy of monarchs all over Europe. In all his palaces, Louis encouraged dancing, hunting, music and gambling. He loved conversation, especially with women: the power of women in Louis's life and reign is a particular theme of this book.

Louis was obsessed by the details of government but the extraordinary cost of building palaces and waging continuous wars devastated the country's finances and helped set it on the path to revolution. In 1685, his decision to revoke toleration for Protestants damaged France, and at the end of his life, his forces were persistently defeated. Nevertheless, by his death, he had helped make his grandson king of Spain, where his descendants still reign, and France had taken essentially the shape it has today.

King of the World is the most comprehensive and up-to-date biography of this hypnotic, flawed figure in English. It draws on all the latest research to draw a convincing and compelling portrait of a man who, three hundred years after his death, still epitomises the idea of le grand monarque.

  • Published: 4 July 2019
  • ISBN: 9780241960592
  • Imprint: Penguin eBooks
  • Format: EBook
  • Pages: 640

Praise for King of the World

A superb biography of Louis XIV by Philip Mansel, the best non-French historian of France. Historical biography does not get better than this

A. N. Wilson, The Week

Mansel ... treads the line between the academic and the accessible effectively ... No other English-language biography has so successfully given us a portrait of him as man and monarch ... His grasp of the sources is superb

Gareth Russell, The Times

Almost everything about Louis XIV - the size of his palaces, the length of his reign, the height of his heels - was on a gargantuan scale. ... Such splendour is there not just to dazzle, but also to deceive, and excavating the "real" Louis poses a major challenge for any biography. Philip Mansel's impressive new survey - the best single-volume account of the reign in any language - moves deftly between these fictive and objective worlds. He revels in the fêtes and fireworks, the frescoes and tapestries, that glorified Louis's rule. But he is never blind to Louis' failings and absurdities, and clearly delineates how the "absolute monarch" was never as absolute as he wishes the world to think. ... Mansel brings this teeming, sybaritic, ultra-competitive Versailles vividly to life

John Adamson, Sunday Times

A superb biography ... wonderfully detailed and fluent ... Huge amounts of information have been digested ... Mansel is alive to every nuance of rank and relation and a master of the mechanics of life at Versailles and the other royal palaces. This mastery naturally extends to dynastic relations and to the diplomatic history of Louis's reign ... The portrait of Louis that emerges from this titanic effort is compelling: a man of large appetites, capable of intense affection and loyalty, vengeful, gracious, vain, hard-working, hardened in the exercise of his own will, susceptible to flattery, conceited in his isolation, capricious, unforgiving and stubborn ... It seems hard to believe ... that this biography will ever, in English at least, be surpassed.

Hamish Robinson, Oldie

Excellent though Mansel is on the larger picture - you will find no more comprehensive biography of this extraordinary monarch - his genius lies in unpacking the complexities of Louis' royal court.

Miranda Seymour, Financial Times

Mansel is master of the well-chosen anecdote and of the pithy summary. Interesting details sit comfortable within the big picture that he portrays ... this is a scholarly, readable and impressively wide-ranging account of the longest reign in history.

Julia Priest, Times Literary Supplement

Time and space both yield before Mansel's authorial ambition on quite as vast a scale as Louis's own territorial, reputational, amatory and gastronomic appetites.

Minoo Dinshaw, Daily Telegraph

On a scale suitable to its subject, King of the World is in one way an extended moral fable ... Mansel tells the story of these wars fluently and fairly

David Crane, Spectator

To do [Louis XIV] justice and encapsulate his person, his plans, his successes and his failures, all which involved a dizzying cast of characters and a mind-numbing web of relationships, is no easy task. With his extensive studies of court ritual and his sympathy for the Bourbons, Philip Mansel is the man for the job. ... Mansel's descriptions of how Versailles functioned are masterful and high-entertaining.

Adam Zamoyski, Standpoint

thorough, scholarly and fluent... breath-taking... indispensable

Donald Lee, The Art Newspaper

the ultimate biography of the Sun King...a work of scholarly analysis and flamboyant anecdotage, international conflict and sexual politics

Simon Sebag-Montefiore, BBC History Magazine

Philip Mansel's superb King of the World: The Life of Louis XIV will become a classic. Magisterial and definitive, this is the life's work of one of our leading historians.

Jane Ridley, Spectator Books of the Year

The life of the Sun King, under whom France founded colonies in Africa, America and the East, is richly treated ... This nuanced study makes you feel for the old monster.

Simon Heffer, Daily Telegraph Books of the Year

a magnificent study of the life of Louis XIV. He shaped his own age and, partly because of some of his mistakes, helped to shape the future of France as well.

Chris Patten, The Tablet Books of the Year

A wonderfully meticulous look at Louis XIV (1638-1715) from a leading historian of France. . . . An impressive, comprehensive biography of the Sun King-a must-add to any Francophile's library.


Mansel has mastered a bewildering array of primary and secondary sources dealing with his man and his time period, and he's invested his entire narrative with a kind of tightly compressed narrative energy that has the most unlikely effect imaginable: it turns a 600-page biography of King Louis XIV into a genuine page-turner of a reading experience. ...a genuinely impressive work...one of the year's grandest biographies..

Steve Donoghue, Open Letters Review

Philip Mansel's King of the World: The Life of Louis XIV is just a masterwork and a superlative delight, written with sensitivity and worldliness, political acuity and personal empathy all in Mansel's usual elegant prose.

Simon Sebag Montefiore, Aspects of History Books of the Year

Mansel is a welcome prize for any reviewer. You will have a judicious guide, able to make well-founded assessments based not only on an understanding of the archives and printed sources, their riches and ambiguities, but also of the culture from which their assumptions stem.

Jeremy Black, The Critic

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